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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I’m not certain I’ve ever seen much like what our Gospel reading describes this morning. A crowd keeps Jesus busy at the place where He is staying. So Jesus heads down to the waterfront with the crowd following and pushing in close so that Jesus has His back to the water and is probably standing in the water. He gets in a boat, puts a bit offshore and then begins to tell stories. As Fr. Seth reminded us yesterday at Mother Jane Johnson’s ordination, some of the best stories are told at the water’s edge among fishermen.

Jesus tells them about a man who heads out to his field to plant a crop. Planting back then wasn’t the high-tech thing it is today. They didn’t sit in the cab of a John Deere tractor, with air-conditioning, computers and sensors measuring soil moisture and a GPS unit helping get the most rows into a field pulling a planter that precisely drills the seed to proper depth and orientation for growing. No, they planted using two feet, a bag of seed and a pair of hands to scatter the seed.

As Jesus tells it, this man scatters and sows the seed all over his field. Some of the seed falls on the path and the birds quickly find it and its gone. Some of the seed lands of rocky ground and can’t take root because the soil is too shallow. Other seed lands on good ground but the weeds choke it out so that it doesn’t get enough water and grow. And finally some seed falls on good ground where there are no weeds or rocks or birds and the seed takes root and bears a crop that is a hundred or sixty or thirty times greater than what was planted.

But then He says something else that I have a problem relating to: “Let anyone who has ears, Listen!” To which about half the time, I end up saying, “What?!” Then turn to Kris and ask what did I miss? If you’ve ever caught me without my hearing aids in, you would be amazed at the genius of modern hearing technology, that I had heard anything in the first place.

What would Jesus be saying to us that He needs to reinforce it with a comment that essentially says, “You’ve got ears! Listen to me!” I read that in my Bible and I want to know what’s behind it! As a matter of fact, when most of us read this passage, we might ask the same thing because we don’t farm like that anymore and most of us take care when we plant our gardens to get rid of the rocks and weeds.

Fortunately Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging in suspense. After telling other stories while standing on the boat, the crowds eventually start fading away and Jesus gets some time with His closest friends and explains the story to them.

The seed is the good news of the kingdom of God. It is the Gospel, the truth that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and accomplished it by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice, unblemished by sin. The One who did know sin at all, became sin for all of us who knew sin intimately, so that we might be set free from the Law of Sin and death. If there is one message through all of Scripture, it is that Christ paid the price for our sins that we could not pay ourselves.

Thus, Jesus is telling us that the man who goes out planting the seed is God Himself through Jesus Christ. The field is everyone of us here in St Anne’s, in DePere, in Wisconsin and across the whole world.

But what happens to the seed? Jesus says some of it hit the path and the birds got it. He tells His disciples, that dirt path is like people who hear God’s Word, don’t understand it and before it takes root, the evil one snatches it away. If we stop to think about it, that’s not so hard for us to understand because we’ve seen it in other contexts. How many of us had to be told more than once by our parents as we were growing up to clean our room and get the laundry downstairs?

Words, even important words, can bounce off those who don’t care or who don’t want to listen. Consider what a dirt path actually looks like and we might see the picture even clearer. We had a patch of ground in our house in northwest Iowa that could never grow anything because it was the entrance to the backyard from the sandbox on the side of the house. The ground was packed down, often cracked no matter how much rain we had, and as hard as rock most of the time. Every time I tried to get grass to grow there the seed either bounced off or got tracked to someplace else.

Jesus says the second seed that lands on rocky ground is like someone who hears the Gospel and gets excited about it. They respond and immediately make it their own. Everything is looking great for them, knowing that they have been forgiven and are set free by their faith in Jesus. But then hard times and difficult circumstances come around like they always do and their faith withers. Why? Because the Gospel really didn’t take root in their lives.

No doubt some of us have known many people like this. Some of them might be public figures, some not, some might even be our friends or family. But things are only skin deep. Sooner or later their faith gets tested and it can’t take the stress. Its back to whatever worked for them before hearing the Gospel. Shallow hearts don’t make good long-term relationships.

Jesus then says the third seed that grows but gets choked by the weeds and thistles is like someone hearing the Gospel but never fully responding as the cares of life crowd out the good news. He specifically takes aim at those whose goal in life is maintain the good life. He calls it “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.” The Gospel is good, God is good, Jesus is ok, but don’t mess up my business plan or ask me to sacrifice anything to follow Him. Most unfortunately if we catch some preachers on TV, this seems to be their message.

And there the seed that hits good dirt. It takes root, grows and bears fruit. Not because it has to work at it, but because that is what it was created to do. The Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t about our having to work harder in the field we live in. It’s about God doing all the work and giving us all that we need through Jesus Christ to grow in grace and faith.

God’s plan for us isn’t that we would hear the Gospel and then lose it or lose hope in it. His plan for us is that we would be like the good ground, where the Gospel grows and bears fruit thirty, sixty or hundred times more. Good seed produces good fruit when it takes root in good ground. As we reflect on our readings this morning we need to consider:

Sometimes we can be like that path. God speaks to us through His word and its just more ink spilled on paper to us. It may be we have been trampled on, pounded down, run over and worn out. We can’t take anymore so we get up the defenses and refuse to let the seed of God’s Word take root in our hearts.

Sometimes we are like the rocky ground. We have enough faith to make it through the good times when it’s easy, but we are like grass growing in the crack of a rock. All it takes is a stick dragged along inside our little spot on the rock or a heavy storm and out we fall, pushed or washed out by our circumstances.

Maybe we are like the seed being choked by the cares of life and our desire to maintain appearances. We’re stuck trying to figure out who is really in charge of our lives, Jesus or my retirement plan and house payment. Worries that we might be riding a bubble catch up with us and overwhelm us every week.

Maybe things are going well and we often can actually see and experience God at work in our lives.

All of those things are why we need to hear the Gospel again and again. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He has put to death the Law of sin and death. He has sent His Word and it does not fail to accomplish His purposes. He will keep planting and working the ground until a crop grows. The life that Jesus Christ lived, is ours through His death and resurrection. Just as He died for our sins, He rose for our righteousness, that we might live with Him for all eternity.

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Reading Romans 1 recently, I was struck by the apparent linkage between Rom 1:15 – 18. Naturally, we would expect such linkages in sentences and words written so closely together. Yet at the same time most English Bibles will place those 4 verses in separate sections.

Verse 15 ends the section on Paul’s concern and eagerness to preach to the people of Rome. Verses 16-17 are famously set off as the summary of Paul’s message: the righteous shall live by faith–the ship that launched the Reformation. Verse 18, however, is much darker, announcing the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of human beings.

What if verse 16 explains Paul’s eagerness to go to Rome to preach the gospel? A gospel which announces that God’s righteousness is revealed, a righteousness from God that comes by grace (so verse 17) and a righteousness of God in punishing sin (so verse 18).

This gospel, then centers itself at the cross, where God’s righteous anger is revealed in all of it’s awful reality. While at the same time, the righteousness from God is purchased by His grace through Christ’s death in taking the full load of human sin on Himself as the revealed Son of God (verse 4).

If God’s anger at sin is fully exhausted on Christ at the cross, and the Cross is the full revelation of God’s righteousness (both moral and imputational), how does this change our reading of the rest of Romans 1? Verses 19ff all seem to be written in past tense, whereas verses 8-18 seem to be all present tense.

Could it be that Paul is laying out a case that all of these sins, as repugnant as they are to God, have been dealt with at the cross by God’s righteous grace? Would this make sense of the “Therefore” at the beginning of Chapter 2 as the reason we have no right to judge?

Just some food for thought. I need to go find my Greek New Testament and dig through the original language a bit more.

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Just read the following quotes:

The faithful soul is always given grace sufficient for the matter at hand; there is no possibility of insufficiency of grace.  The realisation of this truth adds greatly to the calmness with which one may face crises and enables one to accept the events of life as they come without undue worry.

and

It is clear, then, that grace is not merely valuable, but necessary to the spiritual life; we depend upon it for our conversion to God and our union with Him, for our perseverance in holiness and for our soul’s growth…God gives His grace richly to those who ask Him, but the soul that does not pray is so shut up in itself that even the grace of God can hardly find an entrance.  Yet the use of grace demands circumspection. If grace is to have free course and attain its end one must desire to always do the will of God and avoid exposing oneself willfully to danger.  It is precisely this holy circumspection which is so often lacking even in well-disposed persons, and which is responsible for so many grievous falls from God.  There are many dangers in this world which cannot be avoided; if one loves God and desires to do His will one can rely on grace to keep one safe in these, but one has no right to presume on the grace of God by deliberately going into danger or by allowing oneself to carelessly drift.–F.B. Harton, The Elements of the Spiritual Life

Given the book is about the spiritual life, I would not want to jump to conclusions that we’re looking at another case of prosperity-type gospel here.  Rather, I would think the author is talking about spiritual dangers and carelessness.  So I see his argument is this:

  1. God’s grace is sufficient and does not fail
  2. We are dependent on God’s grace for our spiritual life
  3. We can block God’s gracious action in our lives by our lack of perseverance and our thoughtlessness
  4. In such cases, we cannot presume that God’s grace will prevail in our lives

Is this correct?  Though God’s grace is sufficient, can we block it by our lack of faith, holiness, or whatever?  Is faith, therefore, the necessary ingredient by which God unlocks the treasure house of His grace and pours those riches into our lives?  How does this fit into the finished work of Christ on the cross on our behalf?

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1 Peter 1:13-16 

Peter begins this passage in his letter by saying that we are to prepare ourselves for action.

We don’t have the privilege of sitting around and waiting for things to happen to us.  We need to be active and take action in light of what God wants us to be.

We must learn to be like runners who when they line up for a race drop everything that could hold them back.  We don’t see runners set up to the start line carrying luggage.  They aren’t wolfing down big Macs and a supersized box of fries.  They aren’t dressed up for a night on the town or for their own wedding.

There’s only one mission on their minds.  Get to the finish line.  It’s such a solitary goal that those who race at the highest levels spend years perfecting their starting stance.  They have discovered the best pace at which they run the fastest times.  They have found which shoes help or hinder them on what kind of track surface and in what kind of weather.  Even their clothes are designed for freedom of movement and for extra light weight.

They have put hours and even years in to the preparation for a race that may last for less than seconds or as long as two hours or more.  When they step up to the line they are prepared for one thing and one thing only—to run.  No matter how long or short the race is, the only purpose they have is to run.

That’s the call that Peter is laying on us this evening in this passage.  We need to be ready for action, ready to do what God has called us to do, ready to be the people God has called us to be. (more…)

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Jeremiah 9:23-24

Most likely every place we have ever worked has sent us to basic training.

The military has basic training to introduce recruits to the military life.  Schools and businesses have basic training called orientation to introduce new students or employees to the world they are entering.  Such training teaches people how to find the copier, where to find the cafeteria, how the computers work, where to park or get your photo id; just about everything that you would need to survive at school or in the company on any given day in order to do the job or acquire the education needed to graduate.

The first days at work in a new job or at a new school can be overwhelming as we try to remember all of that information, as well as the names of the people we meet every day.  But without that information, we’re lost.  We don’t stand a chance to get ahead with what we’re doing.

The basics we learn in basic training in business or wherever are what makes the world go around every day we are at work.  Without them, life gets a lot harder than it has to be.  We spend a lot of time and effort being corrected over and over again about how to do things right and wasting our time and other people’s time fixing things we should have learned first.

Sometimes I think that is the way we are in following Christ.  We forget the basics and focus on all the goodies and benefits without putting ourselves through the training we need to get the basics down.  Christ has not called us to be hotshot Christians.  He has called us to be like Him.

He is holy in all that He is and expects us to be holy in all that we are and all that we do.  Whether we’re at work, at home, playing with our kids, or going out to eat, we are expected to be holy people.

That is going to require a whole new way of thinking about life.  It will require a whole new set of parameters by which we make decisions and live our lives.  If we are to follow Christ the way He has called to follow Him, we are going to have to rearrange our lives and train ourselves in the basics first before we move off to other things.

The God who called us to be His children has called each of to be holy, just as He is holy.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  We must be like Him.

If we will be like Him, we must also start with the basics.  The basics of following Christ and pursuing the holiness He desires for us begin with knowing the Holy One.  Knowing God. (more…)

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Holy, Holy, Holy

None of us accomplishes anything in life without an understanding of what we need to do or to become in our lives.  We do not lose weight without thinking about what we want to look like as a result of dieting.  We don’t go to the supermarket without thought to what meals we wish to fix, what we need to purchase and how we will get it home.  We do not set out in collegio or university without an idea of what we want to be after we graduate.

The same can be said for nations.  Nations do not rise unless someone has an idea of what the nation should be, even if it is only a dictator circling power around himself.  230 years ago men gathered in Philadelphia behind closed doors to hammer out an idea of what they thought their country should become and how they should live together.  They were hammering out a vision for their nation.

That vision had to be compelling or they would quickly lose interest in it.  One of them said “Unless we all hang together, we will certainly all hang separately.”  The vision they captured was going to have to sustain them in the hard years ahead.  They were going to have to be willing to lay down their lives for that vision.  The idea that everyone was created equal in God’s eyes was enough for them to stand up and fight for the vision they produced in the American Declaration of Independence.  It kept them motivated for the next 10 -15 years as they fought to establish the United States of America.

We, however, are not forming a more perfect political union.  We are seeking to follow God.  What will keep us motivated in that pursuit to follow Christ?  What vision do we have for life that will make us want to gather others to join us?  What vision do we have that drives all of our activities and guide us in conducting our affairs with the world around us?

May I suggest that the vision we need is first and foremost is the greatness of God in all of His holy splendor?  The holiness of God is theme that runs continually through the message of the Bible.  From beginning to end the Scriptures declare the holiness of God and the call to holiness of His people that He calls to Himself.

This is not going to be an exhaustive discussion of the vision we need as followers of Christ but I think it is a good beginning.  Without a vision of the holiness of God we will not see how completely different He is from us.  We will see Him as a great big cosmic grandpa who spoils us rotten with good things.

We will not understand the transformation of our lives that God desires to see in us.  We will not begin to experience life to its fullest because we will exchange the holiness God desires for the desires of our minds and bodies.  We will be trapped by those desires and never find the freedom to love God the way we were designed to love God.

That’s why I have titled this series “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Holiness.”  It’s not an original title.  I’m sure others have preached and used that phrase from the American Declaration of Independence.  But I think it helps us today catch a vision of who God is and what He calls us to be—holy as He is holy.

There’s no better place to begin this series than with the passage that powerfully proclaims the holiness of God.  Isaiah 6:1-8.  We need to catch a glimpse of who God is; just as Isaiah caught a glimpse of God.
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